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One down, two to go. Fresh off its return to the main stage, the

Ultimate Fighting Championship
on Wednesday follows UFC
249
with
UFC Fight Night 171
—a card packed with intriguing betting
options. We look to keep it rolling, albeit mostly at heavyweight,
in this edition of Prime Picks.

In the only pick we will pursue between two fighters under 207
pounds, we expect that Smith can work his way back up to another
title shot and snap Glover
Teixeira
’s quiet three-fight winning streak. Although Teixeira
presents a puzzle that could grind out his opponent, over the
course of five rounds, Smith has shown to possess the durability
and wherewithal to adjust against most opponents. Both men have
reached the scorecards in a 25-minute affair once in their
respective careers, as both lost clear-cut decisions to Jon Jones.

Smith rebounded from a one-sided shellacking from Jones with a late
submission over Alexander
Gustafsson
in June 2019. Lifting his finish rate to over 90
percent with the win, the 31-year-old Nebraskan proved he belonged
among the light heavyweight division’s elite. Having moved up from
middleweight to start a run that resulted in finishes over Rashad
Evans
, Mauricio Rua
and Volkan
Oezdemir
, the jury was still out on whether Smith could hang
with the best at 205 pounds. He could.

Once lauded as a frightening knockout artist, Teixeira has found a
second wind at the age of 40. In addition to tapping Karl
Roberson
and Ion
Cutelaba
in his longest winning streak since 2016, he took
Nikita
Krylov
to the scorecards for the first time in the Ukrainian’s
33-fight career. Relying less on power punches and more on his
grappling and surprisingly effective takedowns, this version of
Teixeira will likely have to be on point for all 25 minutes to win.
It may be difficult to imagine this fight going the distance, with
the line of the judges getting involved an unlikely +215.
Alternatively, Teixeira could play spoiler if he implements a
suffocating strategy, as he did when he faced Ovince St.
Preux
or Quinton
Jackson
.

Although Gustafsson was coming back against “Lionheart” in the
third and part of the fourth round, one slip-up from “The Mauler”
was all Smith needed to take his back and coax the tap. Smith’s
craftiness and relentless aggression is what he will need to make
Teixeira wilt as the fight progresses. Should Teixeira need to take
time to recover from Smith’s assault by clinching, the Factory X
standout can make him pay dearly with any of his eight sharp limbs.
While Teixeira has never before tapped out, it might be risky to
pursue a narrow prop of Smith Wins by TKO/KO at -110. Instead,
Smith Wins Inside Distance at -115 allows for the potential of a
submission while not surrendering much on the backend.

In the first of several discussions about a fighter changing weight
to meet a heavier opponent, Rothwell will almost certainly have at
least 30 pounds on a former light heavyweight title challenger in
St. Preux. While generally the sentiment is supportive of fighters
moving up in weight during the pandemic to keep from cutting
weight, taking on a man that likely cuts weight to get 265 is not
optimal. If this fight plays out like Rothwell will want—on the
feet—it should be his to take home. Of note, St. Preux has never
beaten an opponent in the Octagon who has landed more than 37
strikes
on him.

Rothwell has vastly preferred to slug it out throughout his career,
but “Big Ben” wields an underrated submission game. The 10-finger
guillotine he hit on Josh
Barnett
—a man who had never before tapped to a submission,
while hitting nearly 20 of his own—was not accidental or a fluke.
Against a fighter who can get complacent in his grappling, it would
behoove St. Preux not to take Rothwell’s ground game lightly. At 38
years of age and entering his 50th fight, it is not anticipated
that Rothwell will get careless enough to do something like pull
for a guillotine choke off of his back.

Size matters to an extent, and although it remains to be seen
exactly how large St. Preux will be on fight night, he will be
smaller than his opponent. “OSP” has largely abandoned the
headhunting nature he adopted earlier on in his UFC tenure and has
been gravitating to his wrestling to force opponents into making
mistakes. Rothwell has not been taken down since Gabriel
Gonzaga
grounded him
three times
in 2013 and snatched his neck in a guillotine
choke, and it is not likely that “OSP” will be the one to take him
back down to the canvas. The Kenosha, Wisconsin, native should come
away with the upset by forcing St. Preux to strike with him.

In his promotional debut, Lins has the ability to make a statement
by taking out a former champion. While his level of competition is
not nearly as sturdy as that of his opponent, the last 10 bouts for
Lins have taken place in Bellator
MMA
or the
Professional Fighters League
. As the inaugural winner of the
PFL heavyweight tournament, an undisclosed injury ejected him from
the 2019 tournament. Instead, the former light heavyweight signed
with the UFC, and this will be his first match since New Year’s Eve
in 2018. The move from 205 pounds to heavyweight for the PFL season
proved to be in his best interest, as he finished all four of his
opponents—including three UFC ex-pats—to win the coveted $1 million
prize.

Throughout his UFC tenure, Arlovski has gone through more
reinventions than a pop star, but he has fallen into a bit of a rut
the last few years. Most recently, Jairzinho
Rozenstruik
laid waste to him in November in less than 30
seconds, but before then, he went the distance eight times in a
row. “The Pit Bull” celebrates one win in his last six appearances,
as he took a decision over the aforementioned Rothwell. Having
crossed the plane of 40 and not looking back, the Belarusian has
seen his best days and will be fighting a man seven years his
junior with far less battle damage.

Although Lins does not display one-shot knockout power, his volume
will likely get the job done. At the moment, Arlovski is one shy of
the all-time record for the most knockout losses as a modern UFC
heavyweight, with seven. Only Frank Mir and
Gabriel
Gonzaga
have suffered more knockouts at the hands of their
opponents, with eight each. If the history for “Monstro” is any
indication, he can lift Arlovski into that top spot and do so in
dramatic fashion. As Arlovski has been submitted only once, the
safe method of victory prop of Lins Wins by TKO/KO at +130 is a
preferred option if you see the fight ending inside the
distance.

Simply looking at the Fight Finder profile of a fighter like
Sherman may be misleading, as his last MMA bout took place in
February 2019. Since then, “The Vanilla Gorilla” went over to
bare-knuckle combat, competing three times in 2019 with Bare
Knuckle Fighting Championships, including a title victory over
heavyweight tournament winner Arnold
Adams
. A close decision loss to one-time middleweight Joey
Beltran
saw Sherman gather his thoughts and decide to sign with
the UFC—although three first-round knockouts with Island Fights did
not hurt.

Making his promotional debut on short notice is Isaac
Villanueva
, who earned his spot on the roster after becoming a
two-division champ with Fury Fighting Championship in Texas. The
heavy-handed Houstonian posts an 81 percent knockout rate, and his
last two victories have come over UFC veterans Roger
Narvaez
and Rashad
Coulter
. Prior to that, his competition was what one would
expect from the regional circuit. Should “Hurricane Ike” storm
through his competition and win his debut, he will likely need to
get the job done early and catch Sherman off-guard.

One way or another, this fight should not reach the scorecards, and
the line is even at -115 on whether the fight ends within the first
round and a half. Fight Doesn’t Go to Decision at -320 may not be
worthwhile on its own, but that option as part of a parlay could be
beneficial. Sherman’s size as a full-fledged heavyweight will be
evident compared to his opponent, and the power should come with
it. We see the knockout coming, and expect that it will be Sherman
who records it (+120) to kick off the card.

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